Random Apple Memory
When MP3 got big, Apple bought its now-famous app, recalls Adam Banks
iTunes: how it all began.
In 1999, MP3 was suddenly huge. The new audio file format meant tiny digital players could store a couple of album’s worth of songs copied from a PC – a cool alternative to a personal cassette or CD player. Apple didn’t make portable devices, but Steve Jobs wanted the Mac to go MP3. He emailed independent developers Cabel Sasser and Steven Frank, who’d invited him to try their player app, Audion. But they were being courted by online giant AOL, and Sasser thought it “only fair” to delay.
Jobs didn’t wait. He bought the rights to an already popular MP3 program, Casady & Greene’s SoundJam MP, and hired its developers – including Jeff Robbin, who would stay to become VP of consumer applications. SoundJam’s applet window had a mono brushedmetal interface, like Apple’s QuickTime Player 4, with play/pause, skip, and volume controls; a playlist function; and a visualization of swirling patterns responding to sound. Those were the features of iTunes 1.0, which was unveiled in January 2001 as an Apple innovation.
A major addition was the ability to record tracks to CD, inspiring the slogan “Rip, Mix, Burn.” Since transferring MP3s to CD, and vice versa, was technically an infringement of copyright, this would be endlessly quoted in legal analysis.
Newly hired hardware expert Tony Fadell, engineer Jon Rubinstein, and designer Jonathan Ive were already at work on the iPod, which arrived in October. When, the following year, Jobs himself signed off the record label deals that created the iTunes Music Store, the stage was set for a revolution in our consumption of music.
Back in the day, even iTunes came on a CD. Check out the app’s brushed-metal interface.